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May 01 2013

TPP: Biggest Threat to Global Internet Since ACTA?

This article was co-authored by Maira Sutton and Katitza Rodriguez of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Its original version can be found here.

The United States and ten governments from around the Pacific region are meeting yet again to hash out the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) on May 15-24 in Lima, Peru. The TPP is one of the worst global threats to the Internet since ACTA. Since negotiations have been secretive from the beginning of the process, advocates seeking to learn more about the agreement have been relying on a leaked draft [PDF] of the treaty from February 2011. Based on that text, some other leaked notes, and the undemocratic nature of the entire process, we have every reason to be alarmed about the copyright enforcement provisions contained in this multinational trade deal.

The TPP is likely to export some of the worst features of US copyright law to Pacific Rim countries: a broad ban on breaking digital locks on devices and creative works (even for legal purposes), a minimum copyright term of the lifetime of the creator plus seventy years (the current international norm is the lifetime plus fifty years), privatization of enforcement for copyright infringement, ruinous statutory damages with no proof of actual harm, and government seizures of computers and equipment involved in alleged infringement. Moreover, the TPP is worse than US copyright rules: it does not export the many balances and exceptions under US law that favor the public interest and act as safety valves in limiting rightsholders’ protections.

Adding insult to injury, the TPP's temporary copies provision will likely create chilling effects on how people and companies behave online and their basic ability to use and create on the Web. The stated goal of the TPP is to unite Pacific Rim countries by harmonizing tariffs and trade rules between them, but in reality, it's much more than that. The “intellectual property” chapter in this massive trade agreement will likely force changes to copyright and patent rules in each of the signatory countries. Accepting these new rules will not just re-write national laws, it will also restrict the possibility for countries to introduce more balanced copyright laws in the future.

This strategy may end up harming more proportionate laws in countries such as Chile, where a judicial order is required for ISPs to be held liable for copyright infringement or to take down content. Such systems better protect users and intermediaries from disproportionate or censorship-driven takedowns. If the final TPP text forces countries to adopt a privatized notice-and-takedown regime, this could imply the end of the Chilean system. It would also undermine Canada's notice-and-notice regime.

Film, music and other content industries can and will continue to use their economic and political power to get laws that protects their interests. They did it with SOPA and ACTA, and now it's happening with TPP [es]. It's going to be a challenge to defeat these policies, but users can do it. The TPP is slated for conclusion this October, but our goal is to get the worst of these copyright provisions out of it. The way to fight back is to show that we will not put up with this: to demand an open, transparent process that allows everyone, including experts from civil society, to analyze, question, and probe any initiatives to regulate the Internet. The secrecy must be stopped once and for all.

Digital rights advocacy groups around the world are working to change the TPP process and bring users’ concerns to the table. Users in any country can join a campaign led by Canadian NGO OpenMedia by clicking here. Users in the US can join EFF's campaign, directed at US Congress members, which calls for the immediate release of the text of the TPP and demands that this process become democratic and transparent.

Below is EFF's infographic highlighting the most problematic aspects of TPP. Please spread the word about how this agreement will impact you and your country. Right-click and save the image for the PNG file, or you can download the PDF version below. Remix it, build upon it, and get the word out. Let's protect and defend the Internet from this secret trade deal.


April 09 2013

SecDev Foundation to Monitor Syria’s Digital Security

When Syria “disappeared” from the Internet last year, no one seemed to know exactly what had happened. Researchers later determined that the nearly-complete blocking of Internet traffic flowing and in and out of the country resulted from coordinated action by government actors. In an effort to develop more robust monitoring and analysis of events like this, the Canada-based SecDev Foundation is launching the Syria Digital Security Monitor, a site that maps and visualizes reports of disruption to critical infrastructure in Syria including internet, telecommunication, electricity and water, and reports on cyber threats.


The Syria Digital Report on Twitter (@DSRSyria)

The project is based on a crowdsourced effort that relies on reports by Syrians and extensive monitoring of Syrian social media. The data used for the monitor is captured in SecDev Foundation’s Ushahidi website and displayed on a visual timeline.

Additionally, the SecDev Foundation is sponsoring an ongoing project to support digital safety and security for Syrian civil society with resources in Arabic on secure communication tools as well as information on digital security and safety.

Developments can be followed along on Twitter via the following accounts: @DSRSyria @SMWSyria @PsiphonSyria, and on Facebook.

Sponsored post

March 27 2013

Victory for Transparency: Microsoft Reports on Government Requests for User Data

The original version of this post appeared on the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Every day, when a person sends a Tweet, posts a  photo to Flickr, or updates her Facebook page, she is making decisions about which companies to entrust with her thoughts, photos, contacts, identity and location data. In order to make informed decisions, users—especially those at risk of government repression—need to know if governments are asking companies for information about their online activities and what kinds of information the companies are handing over in response to these requests.

Earlier this year, Lebanese security researcher Nadim Kobeissi led a coalition of digital rights advocates, including GVA, in calling on Microsoft to report on government requests for Skype user data (Microsoft is the parent company for Skype). In an open letter to the company, the coalition pointed out that with 600 million users worldwide, Skype is effectively one of the world’s largest communication service providers.

Infographic of recent Google transparency report data, created by EFF and SHARE Defense. (CC BY 3.0)

Infographic of recent Google transparency report data, created by EFF and SHARE Defense. (CC BY 3.0)

Many users rely on Skype for secure and private communications and for some—whether they’re activists working in repressive environments or journalists communicating with sensitive sources—the stakes are high.

As a community, we're pleased that Microsoft has not only answered that letter on behalf of Skype, but has done so on behalf of the entire company. Last week Microsoft released its first transparency report, which covers all requests for user data from law enforcement and judicial authorities received in 2012. The report covers all of their online and cloud services, including Hotmail/, SkyDrive, Microsoft Account, and Messenger. Skype data gets it own separate report this year, because different laws apply. As the company notes, Microsoft is based in the United States, but Skype is a “ wholly-owned, but independent division of Microsoft, headquartered in and operating pursuant to Luxembourg [and EU] law.”

The report includes information about requests that the company fulfilled for both Skype and its other products. For non-Skype products, it also reports the number of requests that resulted in the disclosure of user data. This is a great step forward, since it gives more information about what user information is being sought and how often it is being turned over.

Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, the UK and the US made the most requests for Microsoft user data in 2012 (including Skype and other products/services listed above). How does Microsoft determine the list of countries for which it will accept government requests for user data?

The company writes,

Microsoft maintains operations and a physical presence in more than 100 countries around the world, which makes it easier for law enforcement authorities and/or courts to contact local Microsoft offices with requests for customer data. However, we only disclose data in 46 countries where we have the ability to validate the lawfulness of the request.

Even when restricted to 46 countries, the quantity of requests is surprising. In 2012, Microsoft and Skype received a total of 75,378 requests from law enforcement agencies, potentially impacting 137,424 accounts. For comparison, in the same period Google received 42,327 requests. One possible explanation is that, especially when combined with Skype, Microsoft serves a significantly larger number of users than Google. More user accounts may translate into more requests for user data. Microsoft has also had an international presence for much longer than Google.

Other highlights include generalized information about the number of National Security Letters (NSLs) that Microsoft has received, going back to 2009, as well as generalized information about the total number of accounts that may have been affected by those requests. These letters — which are issued to communications service providers such as phone companies and ISPs and are authorized by US law (18 U.S.C. 2709) — allow the FBI to secretly demand data about ordinary American citizens’ private communications and Internet activity without any prior judicial review. To make matters worse, recipients of NSLs are subject to gag orders that forbid them from ever revealing the letters’ existence to anyone. EFF just successfully argued that the NSL gag orders are unconstitutional, but that court order is on hold pending an appeal by the government.

Until recently, none of the companies that issue transparency reports included statistics on NSLs. But a few weeks ago, Google published these figures for the first time as part of their transparency report, shining some limited light on the ways in which the US government uses these secretive demands for data about users. We are happy to see Microsoft follow suit. Because the numbers are so generalized (Microsoft received 1,000-1,999 NSLs in 2011, affecting 3,000-3,999 accounts), it is difficult to make comparison with Google, but speaking broadly, the Microsoft appears to receive more NSLs than Google.

What’s even more interesting is the claim regarding Skype that out of 4,713 requests for user data that potentially affect 15,409 accounts, the number of requests resulting in the disclosure of user content is zero. The Skype report does not specify how often the company complied with government requests for transactional data, (this might include a user’s name, billing address, or IP history, but not the content of his or her communications) noting that Skype did not keep this information for 2012. We expect that this will be clarified in future reports. But for users who expressed concern that Microsoft might be turning over their Skype conversations and messages in response to a warrant, these figures may appear reassuring.

The Skype report goes one step further and offers the following clarification regarding its obligations under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), a US law that forces broadband Internet and interconnected voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services to become wiretap-friendly:

The U.S. law, Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, does not apply to any of Microsoft’s services, including Skype, as Microsoft is not a telecommunications carrier. Skype is an independent division headquartered and operating under Luxembourg law.

Does this mean that Skype is safe and secure for users who are concerned about the possibility of government surveillance? Not necessarily. Microsoft offers this important caveat:

While we may not receive law enforcement requests from some countries, or may not honor requests that do not follow our principles and policies, we nevertheless understand some users of our services may be subject to government monitoring or the suppression of ideas and speech. We provide SSL encryption for Microsoft services and Skype-Skype calls on our full client (for full function computers) are encrypted on a peer-to-peer basis; however, no communication method is 100% secure. For example Skype Out/In calls route through the existing telecommunications network for part of the call and users of the Skype thin client (used on smartphones, tablets and other hand-held devices) route communications over a wireless or mobile provider network. In addition, the end points of a communication are vulnerable to access by third parties such as criminals or governments.

Filtering and censorship of TOMSkype in China is one example of the kind of monitoring and suppression of Skype traffic to which Microsoft alludes in its report.

Skype's 2005 external security audit indicated that “digital certificates created by the [central Skype] certificate authority are the basis for identity in Skype” and that, if falsified, these certificates could allow interception of Skype users’ communications (see section 3.4.1). Microsoft's Skype division still controls and operates this authority. A troubling question about the report's definition of “Disclosure of Content” is whether falsified certificates or disclosure of cryptographic secrets—which are perhaps not themselves seen as user content, but can be directly used by an outside party to intercept it—counts as “Disclosure of Content” or not. Observers including security expert Chris Soghoian worried that “leakage of crypto keys would…not be considered release of content” by the report, even though they result in content getting intercepted. It's important for Microsoft to clarify this point to make the information reported about Skype meaningful.

None of this should take away from the big credit that Microsoft deserves for publishing this report in the first place or for including as much information as it did. By joining the ranks of companies that issue transparency reports, Microsoft has cleared up some of the confusion about the risks users are taking when they use Microsoft products, and added to our body of knowledge about the scope of government surveillance. We hope that 2013 is the year that transparency reports become the new normal. Now that Microsoft has done it, perhaps it will be less and less acceptable for companies like Facebook and Yahoo! to leave their users in the dark about government requests for their data.


February 21 2013

Pakistan: The “Access Is My Right” Campaign

Pakistani Internet rights NGO Bytesforall has started an online campaign about internet filtering and online censorship. The campaign, called “Access Is My Right,” aims to raise Internet users’ awareness about policies and practices that limit the right to free expression online.

In recent years, online surveillance in Pakistan has increased tremendously. Government officials have repeatedly argued that this is done in the interest of citizens’ safety and security. The tagline for this awareness campaign is “A Pakistan free of censorship and surveillance will be a prosperous Pakistan.”

“This campaign is a call for [a] larger human rights movement in the country and citizens to fight the ongoing censorship as it will further take its toll on already compromised civil liberties in the country. We invite all individuals who have been affected by online censorship, or are against the idea of Internet and communications bans, to join the movement and protest by sharing the campaign visuals over the Internet as much as they can.”

Pakistan has taken increasing measures in recent years to implement digital censorship. The government went so far as to purchase a comprehensive URL filtering system which would block access to any ‘undesired’ URLs — official documentation defined the term ‘undesired’ using vague terminology related to morality. In the face of policy developments like this one, the role of campaigns such as “Access is my Right” (AIMR) is critical.

Communication rights are fundamental rights

Communication rights are fundamental rights


The campaign has mustered significant traction on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Infographics circulated by the campaign’s Facebook page have already been shared by hundreds and are sparking active debate.

In creating these infographics, the team behind AIMR has focused on the problems that arise once the government chooses to censor the web or take down cellular services in select regions of the country. These problems range from inability to contact help in an emergency to huge business losses and more.

It has been over two months since YouTube was banned in Pakistan. In a blog post on the Access is My Right website, an interesting illustration by Anny Zafar reads: “It's not YouTube, it's OurTube”:

 Illustrated by Anny Zafar. For printable file, please contact

Illustrated by Anny Zafar. For printable file, please contact

AIMR highlights this in a blog post entitled, “Moral Policing will Tarnish our Nascent Democracy“:

Governments who do not trust their citizens police their thoughts and access to information through shackles of ruthless censorship.

 Design and illustration by Anny Zafar

Design and illustration by Anny Zafar


Free internet platforms for education, awareness and entertainment have become an integral aspect of public life in the 21st century and can play a critical role in allowing citizens to contribute positively to a nation’s progress. The Access is my Right campaign aims to increase citizen involvement in protecting these vital platforms. Visit the campaign site to learn more and get involved.

The post was written in collaboration with Salman Lateef.

January 25 2013

Open Source Design Tools for Human Rights Activists

photo by andymangold on creative commons

This article first appeared in Huffington Post.

The world's premier human rights organizations often have entire communications teams with dedicated graphic designers to celebrate their work. But not every organization can afford to have a designer. Even those organizations that do have design gurus may decide, for strategic reasons, to keep tight control over their workflow so that they are not bombarded with too many requests. Not to worry! There are several open source design tools that allow anyone to create killer flyers, posters, icons, or campaign—the only limit is your imagination. More importantly, learning basic design allows you to approach your human rights work more creatively and reach audiences with more diverse forms of storytelling.

Open Source programs are different from resources that allow you to use an account for free up to a certain amount, and they do not require you to upgrade or purchase more capacity. When downloading each of the programs below, I recommend that you download the stable version for your platform (this will be clearly marked on the Download site). Stable versions lack the bells and whistles of experimental versions of software, but they won't crash after you've just filled in your thousandth pixel with burnt umber. All of these programs and tools are supported by voluminous YouTube instructional videos and Wikis. Just run a search online.

The Big 3: GIMP, Inkscape, and Scribus


GIMP is a complex photo editing program that is the closest corollary to Adobe Photoshop. Use GIMP to touch up photos with its staggering array of filters and tools. Once you get the hang of GIMP, you can branch out into using layers to mash up images.


Inkscape is a vector-based drawing program similar to Adobe Illustrator. Vector-based drawing uses mathematical formulas to create images. Unlike GIMP, which generally edits pixels, the resolution stays sharp at any size because all images are scalable according to a formula defined by paths and functions. Use Inkscape to create icons, logos, and cool shapes. Inkscape is probably the most difficult of these three programs to use, so be patient.


Have you ever used Microsoft Word and fought it for 30 minutes as it kept pushing a line of text onto a separate page? This happens because Word attempts to predict where you want to place objects on the page based on its own internal layout engine. Scribus is a powerful desktop publishing platform that bears similarity to Adobe inDesign and enables you to precisely place objects on a page. This makes it very useful, but also frustrating for Word users because it will not do any of the heavy lifting for you. Use Scribus to produce infographics, flyers, posters, postcards, and even business cards.

W3C and SEO Searches

If you are composing blog entries for your organization on WordPress or Drupal, you may occasionally need to know some basic HTML. This is where the World Wide Web Consortium comes in. This nonprofit offers a number of helpful tutorials that tell you the basics of tagging, aligning images, and creating tables. Once you've created your post, check out this short, insightful guide to search engine optimization (SEO) at Global Voices advocacy and also look at their other tools.

Creative Commons

Founded 10 years ago, Creative Commons has revolutionized the use of media on- and off-line by creating simple licenses for users to remix or reproduce work. As more and more services (such as Flickr) sign up, so too do the number of search options available for finding media on the Creative Commons site. While it's always great to support artists by paying for a high-quality, beautiful photo or graphic if your organization can afford it, go to Creative Commons to find images that you can use and modify. Good netiquette says that you should always credit the author if s/he demands it under the license.

Open Clip Art Library

clipart by jean_victor_balin

clipart by jean_victor_balin

Sometimes you don't need an image or graphic, but a simple icon. Open Clip Art has thousands of free icons that you can use. These are available in both PNG format and SVG (scalable vector graphic) format, which is used by Inkscape. This means that you can just plug the icon into GIMP or use it on Inkscape to scale it to the appropriate size.


Sometimes you design a cool image but then can't come up with a good color scheme. As I was composing this piece, a colleague showed me a great tool called Color Hunter, which allows you to extract a palette from a photo that you upload. I don't know if Color Hunter is Open Source or privately owned, so I can't vouch for it.

Do you know of other open source tools?

I'd love to hear them. You can reach me at deji[at]

Thanks to @lottydotty and @cantaloupealone for their expert design advice.

Deji Olukotun is the Ford Foundation Freedom to Write Fellow at PEN American Center. A human rights attorney and writer, his novel Nigerians in Space will be released in 2013 by Ricochet Books.

Reposted byschlingel schlingel

September 15 2012

Chile: 10 Things That Shouldn't be Prohibited Due to Copyright

Note: Article [es] by Derechos Digitales originally published in Spanish, translated by Silvia Viñas.

In the digital world, where the barriers to access information, knowledge, and culture have been significantly reduced, intellectual property protections can become an obstacle for freedom of expression (as we explained here [es, en], and saw, for example, in the testimony of Ciudadano Inteligente [es, en]).

In this new infographic [es] we want to be explicit and show you 10 common things we do on the Internet that should not be prohibited by intellectual property protections. The problem is that, although it might seem absurd, many of these things are common targets for hundreds of particular interests in the copyright industry.

Know your rights, use them and defend them. This way, you are also defending the Internet. #NoTemasaInternet [es] (Don't Fear the Internet)

You can expand the infographic here [es].

Note: See English translation below graphic:

10 things that shouldn’t be prohibited in the digital world due to copyright (but that some still try to prohibit.)

Freedom of expression and the Internet go hand-in-hand. However, there are times when copyright, rather than encourage this freedom, works as a barrier to creativity.

Access to scientific magazines increases each year at a rate greater than inflation. In May 2012, Harvard University reported that its libraries spend over 3 million dollars each year on serial publications.

Industry representatives have pointed out [es] that “The telecommunication industry has obtained huge profits thanks to broadband. Their only justification is the transferring of music, video, and images.”

Currently, our copyright laws prevent private copies for non-commercial purposes, leaving us vulnerable to being accused of committing crimes against intellectual property. In countries like the United States, the industry has sued thousands of Internet users who share content through peer-to-peer systems like BitTorrent.

Lawyers in the industry have pointed out in the press [es] that “Indexing or linking to pirated material is cooperation in an act of public communication and is protected by intellectual property rights.” That, by the way, is not effective.

Something that seems clear-cut has generated lawsuits and requests to take down content, like in the case of Stephanie Lenz [es] in the United States, who filmed her son dancing to a song by Prince and posted the video on YouTube. The video-sharing platform removed Lenz's video when the copyright owner (Universal Music Publishing Group) claimed that this was violation of copyright. Lenz has challenged the claim in court.

Large companies don’t have a very good sense of humor, and they sometimes try to take legal actions when citizens and organizations criticise them. For example, Equifax, the company that owns Dicom, has presented a series of completely unfounded legal actions against the team that is producing the movie “I’m in Dicom.” [es]

Today, with the Internet and digital technology, a big part of creativity is born out of the modification of already existing works. In many cases, the industry has sued authors for remixing songs or creating parodies and satires of other works of art, forgetting that “Everything is a remix.”

[Works in the public domain] are not protected by copyright, so they can be copied, modified, and even sold freely. However, many websites are not rigorous [in evaluating the copyright status of works] and imply [es] that “all rights are reserved” over these works.

There are cultural works that are protected by copyright, but it is impossible to obtain authorization to use them because the authors are unknown or can’t be found. These works are called “orphan works” and in Chile there is no exception that permits the use of these type of works.

The dominant discourse says that EVERYTHING is protected by copyright such that sometimes we forget that there is a big free culture and free software movement. Even universities [es] forget.

Infographic under Creative Commons License CC-BY

August 22 2012

March 15 2012

Strata Week: Infographics for all

Here are some of the data stories that caught my attention this week.

More infographics incoming, thanks to Create

The visualization site launched a new tool this week that helps users create their own infographics. Aptly called Create, the new feature lets people take publicly available datasets (such as information from a Twitter hashtag), select a template, and publish their own infographics. infographic of the #strataconf tag
Segment from a Create infographic of the #stratconf hashtag.

As GigaOm's Derrick Harris observes, it's fairly easy to spot the limitations with this service — in the data you can use, in the templates that are available, and in the visualizations that are created. But after talking to's co-founder and Chief Content Officer Lee Sherman about some "serious customization options" that are in the works, Harris wonders if a tool like this could be something to spawn interest in data science:

"The problem is that we need more people with math skills to meet growing employer demand for data scientists and data analysts. But how do you get started caring about data in the first place when the barriers are so high? Really working with data requires a deep understanding of both math and statistics, and Excel isn't exactly a barrel of monkeys (nor are the charts it creates)."

Could be an on-ramp for more folks to start caring about and playing with data?

San Francisco upgrades its open data initiative

Late last week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee unveiled the new, a cloud-based open data website that will replace, one of the earliest examples of civic open data initiatives.

San Francisco Data banner

"By making City data more accessible to the public secures San Francisco's future as the world's first 2.0 City," said Lee in an announcement. "It's only natural that we move our Open Data platform to the cloud and adopt modern open interface to facilitate that flow and access to information and develop better tools to enhance City services."

The city's Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath told TechCrunch that the update to the website expands access to information while saving the city money.

The new site contains some 175 datasets, including map-based crime data, active business listings, and various financial datasets. It's powered by the Seattle-based data startup Socrata.

The personal analytics of Stephen Wolfram

"One day I'm sure everyone will routinely collect all sorts of data about themselves," writes Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram. "But because I've been interested in data for a very long time, I started doing this long ago. I actually assumed lots of other people were doing it too, but apparently they were not. And so now I have what is probably one of the world's largest collections of personal data."

And what a fascinating collection of data it is, including emails received and sent, phone calls made, calendar events planned, keystrokes made, and steps taken. Through this, you can see Wolfram's sleep, social, and work patterns, and even how various chapters of his book and Mathematica projects took shape.

"The overall pattern is fairly clear," Wolfram writes. "It's meetings and collaborative work during the day, a dinnertime break, more meetings and collaborative work, and then in the later evening more work on my own. I have to say that looking at all this data, I am struck by how shockingly regular many aspects of it are. But in general, I am happy to see it. For my consistent experience has been that the more routine I can make the basic practical aspects of my life, the more I am able to be energetic — and spontaneous — about intellectual and other things."

Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference (May 29 - 31 in San Francisco, Calif.).

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

Got data news?

Feel free to email me.


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